The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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An investment decision is, after all, a matter of trust. West Bengalís hopes of regaining investorsí trust lay shattered in the gunbattle between rival trade unions at the Kidderpore docks. The incident, which resulted in six workers being admitted to hospital, also confirmed suspicions that the stateís labour leaders in general and those belonging to the Centre of Indian Trade Unions in particular cannot be trusted. Twice in the past five days, The Telegraph had editorially commented that the Citu remains as disruptive as ever and it would test all the skills of Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to tame it. It was also mentioned that the chief minister needed to give clearer signals on how he intended to deal with labour unrest. Labour militancy, that has now forced the closure of port operations of the central inland water transport corporation, proves the fears to be true. Mr Bhattacharjee will have only himself ó and his party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), whose labour wing the Citu is ó to blame if the closure at the port leads to other shutdowns and to a new loss of faith in the state. Even if the Indian National Trade Union Congress, the labour front of the Congress, was also involved in the crime at Kidderpore, the responsibility for runaway labour militancy must squarely lie with the Citu.

The larger problem, though, lies with the CPI(M)ís ideological confusions. The party seems to be perennially at war with itself on the question of a role for labour in the new economies. Its attempts at matching the old rhetoric of struggle with the new mantra of production have not worked. The result is utter confusion in the labour ranks, which often expresses itself in mindless acts of violence. Ironically, the recent incidents of labour unrest have come within days of the CPI(M)ís state leadership trying to persuade the Citu leaders to give up their old ways. But if the party has failed to convince the labour leaders that violence will achieve even less than aimless agitations, it is largely because of a lack of direction in the party itself. If the CPI(M) seeks to thrive on the Cituís militancy in other states, it cannot hope to tame it in West Bengal only to facilitate the running of its own government. But Mr Bhattacharjee cannot afford to share the party doublespeak. His basic commitment as chief minister is not to the cause of the party, but to the welfare of the state. Before he calls for investments in Bengal again, he must come clean on his governmentís policy on labour.

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